UN ‘will not be party’ to Rafah evacuation due to lack of safe refuge in Gaza

Secretary-general’s spokesperson says not enough humanitarian aid entering Strip, ‘may last us just days,’ amid looming offensive in southernmost city

People inspect the damage in the rubble of buildings damaged during Israeli strikes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
People inspect the damage in the rubble of buildings damaged during Israeli strikes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The United Nations “will not be party” to any forced displacement of Palestinians currently living in Rafah, the spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday, saying there was nowhere safe in Gaza for them to go.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the military to prepare for an offensive in the southern Gaza city, Hamas’s last stronghold in Gaza, where the UN says roughly 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering after fleeing fighting in other areas of the territory.

Netanyahu pledged to provide “safe passage” for civilians out of Rafah, in an interview with ABC News released over the weekend — without specifying where the large number of people massed near the border with Egypt would go. Washington has urged Israel to come up with a “credible” plan to protect civilians in the city before launching the offensive.

When asked if the United Nations would participate in such an evacuation mission, Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters the world body wanted to “ensure that anything that happens is done in full respect of international law, in the full respect of the protection of civilians.”

“We will not be party to forced displacement of people,” Dujarric said. “As it is, there is no place that is currently safe in Gaza.”

“You can’t send people back to areas that are littered with unexploded ordnance, not to mention a lack of shelter,” the UN spokesman said, referring to parts of the northern and central Gaza Strip

File: Palestinians receive bags of flour at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) distribution center in the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip on November 21, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

He reiterated that humanitarian aid entering Gaza is still insufficient, warning that the available supplies “may last us just days.”

Israel has dismissed claims of shortages in the Strip and alleges that existing problems have been caused by the inability of the UN to properly distribute the goods once they enter the enclave.

Last week, Dujarric had already highlighted the need to ensure that the Palestinians massed in Rafah were “protected.”

“We would not support in any way forced displacement, which goes against international law,” he said.

Israel is preparing for the Rafah offensive, a crucial goal in the war as it serves as a smuggling haven for the enclave’s terror groups, even as efforts toward a truce and a potential hostage deal are ongoing.

An agreement would see respite following four months of war in Gaza triggered by Hamas’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel, when terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 253 hostages to Gaza while committing brutal atrocities.

In response, Israel launched an extensive military campaign aimed at eliminating the terrorist organization and returning the hostages.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says the Palestinian death toll in the Strip since the start of the war has reached 28,064 people.

The figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 10,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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